The UK's largest general insurer plans to close its customer service center in Liverpool following a rise in online insurance sales.

The insurer claims the closure of the operation, which mainly deals with calls from Norwich Union Direct customers, is a result of a growth in online insurance sales, along with improved processes and increased efficiency that means people are no longer required to answer calls.

The insurer has said that hundreds of workers will lose their jobs when the Water Street office closes on October 31, 2006. Work from this office will be relocated to the Sheffield and Glasgow operations in the UK and to India.

It is always a difficult decision to close any part of our operation with the resulting impact on people and jobs, but we have to remain competitive in a constantly-changing market, said Simon Machell, chief executive of Norwich Union Insurance.

We will do everything we can to provide support and where possible redeployment for the people affected, and to keep the number of compulsory redundancies as small as possible.

Of the 321 staff in the Water Street centre, 180 work in motor insurance customer service with a further 40 in home insurance customer service, and the rest in a range of support and administrative roles.

In September 2004 Norwich Union revealed plans to create 7,000 jobs offshore by the end of 2007. This was increased to 7,800 following the acquisition of RAC in March 2005 by Aviva, Norwich Union’s parent company.